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For a nearly 20-year veteran of the local jazz scene, Eric Hochberg has seemed sort of invisible of late, probably because he hasn’t been leading his own groups (and possibly because he blends so well into any project he takes part in). This tough, terrific band–which addresses the first point and proves the second–is long overdue. Up front are the versatile saxophonist Steve Eisen and trumpeter Orbert Davis, a crackling improviser who spends most of his time in the commercial studios; lucky for us, he’s now making time for club work as well. The rhythm section comprises other quintet leaders–drummer Paul Wertico (of the Pat Metheny Group), whose own fivesome also features Hochberg and trumpeter Davis, and Laurence Hobgood, a dervish of a pianist and a terrifically original writer–and there’s an extra, almost tangible empathy among them. But it is Hochberg’s compositions, which make up the band’s repertoire, that most distinguish them. His tunes are accomplished, and certainly not without their clever angles, but their main virtue lies elsewhere: these songs have one helluva lot of soul, and they stay simple enough to let that blare through. In this respect, they’re like Hochberg’s rich-toned, remarkably concentrated bass work. When he solos, he’s a man who knows just where he’s heading, who automatically, unconsciously, cuts away any of the undisciplined undergrowth that clutters his path. Wednesday, Bop Shop, 1807 W. Division; 235-3232.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Polly Thomas.